A doxology is, literally, a glory-word, a word or saying attributing glory to someone or something. While there’s nothing wrong with planning and preparing for a doxology, they are usually spontaneous and impulsive. Thus, a doxology is a spontaneous attributing of glory to God for something glorious He’s done. Take, for instance, Paul’s doxology at the end of Romans 11. In conclusion to what he’s just revealed in 9–11 (and 1–8!), Paul pauses and erupts in praise to God for the “unsearchable” and “unfathomable” ways He is working out His salvific purposes. Let’s look at how pastor Charles Swindoll unpacks these verses in Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary.  

Romans 11:33

Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

Reflecting on the unsearchable mercy of God prompted Paul to break forth in a doxology. Such inexplicable grace can only come from a God of infinitely deep goodness. To praise his Creator, Paul searched his extensive vocabulary to find the right words. It was as if he were stringing verbal pearls onto a magnificent necklace of praise, selecting each one ever so carefully:

Bathos (βάθος) means “depth.” For the first century traveler, nothing was more powerful and profound than the sea. Its depths were dark and mysterious, defying any to know its secrets.

Ploutos (πλοῦτος) means “wealth.” Loosely based on the verb “to flow” the basic sense is “spilling over with goodness.” The wealth can be physical, spiritual, or moral. Of course, in reference to God, it is all three.

Sophia (σοφία, “wisdom”) and gnōsis (γνῶσις, “knowledge”) represent the sum total of all there is to think. They speak of God’s knowledge of all things and His ability to perfectly order all events.

Anexeraunētos (ἀνεξερεύνητος) means “unsearchable.” The root word is a verb meaning “to track,” in the sense of hunting down an animal by following its trail. The Lord’s judgment cannot be traced through human logic. It is beyond our ability to comprehend.

Anexichniastos (ἀνεξιχνίαστος) is virtually identical in meaning to the previous term but is found nowhere outside the Bible and Bible-related literature. Many translations render the term “unfathomable,” both for style and to reflect Paul’s original “depth” theme.

Romans 11:34–35


Paul reinforced his worship by alluding to two passages from the Old Testament. The first comes from Isaiah 40:13, a curiously appropriate selection. In the words of one commentator, “In chapters 1–39 [of Isaiah] judgment on sin is stressed; in chapters 40–66 atonement for that sin and the resulting change in people and the world system are discussed.” Isaiah marked the shift of emphasis from humanity’s sin to God’s inexplicable grace by celebrating His sovereignty and wisdom, which Paul paraphrased in his doxology, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Rom. 11:34).

The second passage (11:35) is an allusion to Job 41:11, in which the Lord challenged the bewildered and suffering patriarch, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” This divine challenge came at the end of a long quest for answers by Job and his friends, a journey that called into question God’s integrity, wisdom, and goodness. Then, just like now, they faced tragedy with a singular question on their lips: Why? And for months, the man’s so-called friends speculated about God’s nature and spun a tangled web of vain theologies. Job’s wife counseled him to forsake life and end his own misery. Eventually, the man was brought to his end and strongly demanded his day in court, where he felt sure he would be vindicated and the Lord caught short.

Job’s Doxological Response

After a long time—we don’t know how long—the Lord broke the silence as He confronted the man who was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). However, He didn’t come with answers. Job never learned of Satan’s challenge in heaven. Job never received an explanation. He was never presented with a logical list of reasons his tragedy was ultimately a part of God’s good plan for him and everyone affected. Instead, he encountered God Himself—and this met his need. Seeing God’s unsearchable mercy and gazing into His unfathomable ways ended the man’s desperate quest for answers. He put his hand over his mouth and repented of his foolish outbursts. And, at that point, he worshipped.

Paul’s Doxological Response

Paul could identify with Job. The apostle did his very best to reveal the plans of God and to explain His methods as the Holy Spirit supernaturally directed him. Eventually, however, his efforts to explain things that exceed the limitations of human ability dissolved into silence. And he stood silent before the magnificence of God and marveled at the sophistication of His ways.

As I reflect on Paul’s doxology, it occurs to me that the only words even remotely suitable to describe God are “un-” words. “Unsearchable.” “Unfathomable.” Words that highlight His utter “otherness.” A. W. Tozer’s thoughts are especially helpful here:

To say that God is infinite is to say that He is measureless. Measurement is the way created things have of accounting for themselves. It describes limitations, imperfections, and cannot apply to God. Weight describes the gravitational pull of the earth upon material bodies; distance describes intervals between bodies in space; length means extension in space, and there are other familiar measurements such as those for liquid, and energy, and sound, and light, and numbers for pluralities. We also try to measure abstract qualities, and speak of great or little faith, high or low intelligence, large or meager talents.

Is it not plain that all this does not and cannot apply to God? It is the way we see the works of His hands, but not the way we see Him. He is above all this, outside of it, beyond it. Our concepts of measurement embrace mountains and men, atoms and stars, gravity, energy, numbers, speed, but never God . . . Nothing in God is less or more, or large or small. He is what He is in Himself, without qualifying thought or word. He is simply God.

Romans 11:36

For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Having exhausted all thought and having considered all rational explanations on the topic of God’s plan for the Jews, Paul’s journey ends the doxology with the Beginning:

From Him: God is the source of all that exists.

Through Him: God sustains all things and gives everything purpose and movement.

To Him: God is the purpose for which all things exist.

All things: Think of it! That includes your current situation. That includes what you cannot figure out. That includes your loss of employment. That includes your promotion. That includes the blessing of your family. That includes the loss of your precious loved one. That includes the bewildering test you’re enduring. That includes whatever situation you happen to be in right now, regardless of how painful or how pleasant it might be. All things.

Responding Doxologically in All of Life

God does not conceal Himself. Nor does He hide His will. If we do not see, it is because we are looking for something He is not. If we do not understand, it is because we have expectations He chooses not to fulfill. But those limitations are ours, not His.

Paul revealed to us everything God revealed to him. We have no reason to suspect he held anything back. Nevertheless, many questions go unanswered. How is God’s kingdom already here, but not yet fully? Why does He allow evil to continue while His elect suffer dreadful and cruel persecution? At what point in the future will He fulfill all of His covenant promises to Israel? How does someone rejoice in his or her affliction? On and on . . . Like you, I have a list of questions I would like to ask the Lord when I get to heaven. But then, like Job and Paul, I suspect it won’t mean very much when I see Him. At that time, it will all make sense.

So why worry over my list of unanswerable questions? Why not worship Him here and now, on this side of eternity, and let His unsearchable mercy, His unfathomable wisdom, and His unmatched character be enough? Is this not a reasonable sacrifice, considering that He is God and I am not?

Get More Encouragement from Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary

Chuck Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary is a great commentary on the entirety of the New Testament. Consistent and thorough exposition with a pastoral heart makes this a great resource for studying and applying God’s Word. Visit our store today to learn more!


  1. Peter Grach Reply

    Dear Ms/Sir,
    Chuck Swindoll’s comments on the Doxology of Romans 11: 33-36 do look positive and encouraging. In one part of the commentary he (Swindoll) writes, ‘Eventually, however, his (Paul’s) efforts to explain things that exceed the limitations of human ability dissolved into silence. And he stood silent before the magnificence of God and marveled at the sophistication of His ways.’
    Yes, this is good, and correct.
    I wonder however, if the commentary considered the reason, or one of the reasons for Paul’s exuberance, joy, praise and worshipful response to God?
    In the 3 Chapters from Chapter 9 – to – 11, Paul addressed whether God had abandoned Israel (and His promises for Israel to be a light to the nations) – since only a few (‘remnant’) believed in, and accepted Jesus as Saviour. The way to salvation through Jesus was not embraced by the majority of Jews.
    Paul explains and states numerous things through Chapters 9-11, such as: that it is God that calls – not of man: analogy/example of Jacob and Esau; Unbelieving Jews allows the Gentiles to come in; the unbelieving Jews can be grafted back in; Paul’s longing for his countrymen to be saved – even wishing to be ‘accursed (anathema) from Christ’ for this to happen (for his unbelieving countrymen to be saved.
    He continues to express this sentiment and longing for his countrymen throughout Chapters 9 – 11, even stating that he hoped to make them ‘jealous of the Gentiles’ who have become believers – so as to ‘save some of them.’
    By the end of Chapter 11 Paul states the ‘solution’ to the problem of why so many of his countrymen do not believe. Paul writes as follows:
    Romans 11: 23 And even they [unbelieving, not called Jews], if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.
    11: 24 For you were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these – the natural branches – be grafted into their own olive tree?
    11: 25 So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
    11: 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
    The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
    11: 27 And this will be My Covenant with them when I take away their sins.
    11: 28 Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs,
    11: 29 since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable.
    11: 30 As you once disobeyed God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience,
    11: 31 so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also now may receive mercy.
    11: 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all. (Holman Christian Standard Bible) (HCSB, 2010).
    The last 2 verses above, very strongly sum up, and indicate why Paul was so ecstatic and worshipful of God’s limitless mercy, grace and love.
    Paul here, as far as I am concerned, has explained that all the presently unbelieving Jews will someday, also be saved.
    No wonder he is so thankful, grateful and joyful – as he, and everyone should be of God’s boundless mercy and grace.
    I am a Universalist-I don’t shy away from that position.
    I just want to point out that there would be nothing to be joyful about if God’s plan from eternity was to destroy a majority of His creation (as asserted by 5-point Calvinists, the Westminster Confession of Faith).
    I don’t know what Chuck Swindoll’s theology is, but if it is 5-point Calvinism, then it is not for me.
    Regarding Job: At one stage, Job got so despairing and frustrated, that he said to his companions, ‘If you really want to appear superior to me,
    Job 19: 6 then understand that it is God who has wronged me and caught me in His net.’ (Job 19: 5-6) (HCSB Study Bible, 2010).
    As Swindoll comments, “Job never received an explanation. He was never presented with a list of reasons his tragedy was ultimately a part of God’s good plan for him and everyone affected. Instead, he encountered God Himself – and this met his need. Seeing God’s unsearchable mercy and gazing into His unfathomable ways ended the man’s desperate quest for answers. He put his hand over his mouth and repented of his foolish outbursts. And at that point, he worshipped.”
    Yes, God showed up and challenged Job: “Where were you when . . . ” BUT, something must have convinced Job of the goodness and mercy and grace of God. We are not told what that was. Because, if God had continued to inflict pain, suffering and anguish upon Job, then, as limited, flawed creatures, there would come a point where nothing would make sense, and a person would respond as Job’s wife had advised Job – for if God continued inflicting pain, beating and suffering, how could one discern between the actions of satan or God (in that instance and situation)? [The scripture: ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ – comes to mind here].
    To sum up: If Chuck Swindoll’s theology is that of, for example, the Calvinists, or that asserted in The Westminster Confession of Faith – then his commentaries are not for me.
    Thank you for your kindness and patience in reading this somewhat lengthy comment .
    Yours faithfully,
    Peter Grach

    • Brad Hoffman Reply

      Hi Peter! I do appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts on this post. You raise an important question about how we should interpret Romans 11:31-32. If I understand you correctly, you see those verses as teaching universalism. How does that fit with what Paul says in verse 23? The only way for unbelieving Jews to be grafted back in again is if “they do not continue in their unbelief.” Do you understand this as saying all will come to faith in Christ? Also, how does that fit with Jesus and Paul’s teaching that wrath would come upon them (Matt. 23:29-36; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 2 Thess. 1:5-10)? Regardless of what Paul is saying in Romans 11:31-32, they both teach a judgment that is future to them. That’s also one of the key differences between the actions of satan and God. God’s judgment is always just. He always does what is right (Gen. 18:25). And it’s only light of his just judgment that we can be astonished at the mercy he’s shown us in saving us from it. Blessings to you.

Write A Comment